Category Archive 'Vladimir Nabokov'

06 Jul 2024

J.K. Rowling in Trouble With Millennial Idiots Again

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Read The Free Press today and you’ll find that everything old is new again.

We’ve gone back to the prim “Banned in Boston” Puritan regime of the pre-1960s. No, actually, we’ve gone well beyond all that to a modern hellscape combining the sanctimony of the Puritan prig with the thuggish eliminationist inclinations of the totalitarian Stalinist.

As is often the case these days, the courageous J.K. Rowling has stood up Liberty and Reason and thereby provoked the mob.

Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous novel, featuring the memoirs of an unrepentant pedophile named Humbert Humbert, has often been a flashpoint for controversy—including at the time of its 1955 publication, when the only outfit that would touch it was a French press best known for publishing literal porn. But however foolish or prudish the mid-century imbroglio surrounding Lolita might have been, it pales in comparison to the one now raging on the internet, where a sizable crowd has been moralistically shrieking about the book for three straight days.

Like so many other digital-age absurdities, this one originates with a millennial who is mad at J.K. Rowling. Here’s what happened: in the year 2000, in an interview with BBC Radio 4, Rowling praised the novel, saying, “[A] plot that could have been the most worthless pornography becomes, in Nabokov’s hands, a great and tragic love story.” Rowling’s sentiments about Lolita are not unique; Stanley Kubrick and Dorothy Parker famously felt the same, and my own copy even has a blurb on it from Vanity Fair, calling it “the only convincing love story of our century.” But nearly 25 years later, an actress named Sooz Kempner unearthed the interview and was shocked, shocked!

“JK Rowling doesn’t understand Lolita,” she wrote on X. “It is not a great and tragic love story, it is terrifying book [sic] written from the POV of a peadophile [sic], a very obviously unreliable narrator, and at no point are you meant to say ‘this is so romantic.’ She’s 12, Joanne. What the FUCK, Joanne.” Her sentiments were echoed by countless others, including novelist Ryan Ruby, who sniped, “Lolita is a moral test. Kempner passes it. Rowling does not.”

On the one hand, this is very much a tempest in a terminally online teapot. On the other hand, the wild virality of Kempner’s post (which has 5.2 million views and over 9,000 reposts) does unfortunately tell us something about the cultural discourse in the year 2024: namely, that people, in their fervor for recreational hatred, are rendering themselves functionally illiterate.


10 Aug 2012

Nabokov on Boxing


That ferociously raised eyebrow would intimidate any opponent.

Everyone knows that the late Vladimir Nabokov collected butterflies and played tennis as a young man, but who would ever have imagined that this rarified Russian intellectual boxed at Cambridge and once published an appreciative essay on the sweet science?

The Times Literary Supplement offers the first English translation of Nabokov’s December 1925 essay on a heavyweight boxing match between the German Hans Breitensträter and the Basque Paolino Uzcudun.

What matters, of course, is not really that a heavyweight boxer is a little bloodied after two or three rounds, or that the white vest of the referee looks as though red ink has leaked out of a fountain pen. What matters is, first, the beauty of the art of boxing, the perfect accuracy of the lunges, the side jumps, the dives, the range of blows – hooks, straights, swipes – and, secondly, the wonderful manly excitement which this art arouses. …

At the very tip of the chin there is a bone, like the one in the elbow which in English is called “the funny-bone”, and in German “the musical-bone”. As everyone knows, if you hit the corner of your elbow hard, you immediately feel a faint ringing in the hand and a momentary deadening of the muscles. The same thing happens if you are hit very hard on the end of the chin.

There is no pain. Only the peal of a faint ringing and then an instantaneous pleasant sleep (the so-called “knock-out”), lasting anywhere between ten seconds and half an hour. A blow to the solar plexus is less pleasant, but a good boxer knows just how to tense his abdomen, so that he won’t flinch even if a horse kicks him in the pit of the stomach.

Read the whole thing.

21 May 2010

“I Leave the Field of Ideas to Doctor Schweitzer and Doctor Zhivago”

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Vladimir Nabokov

From the history of American television:

In the 1950’s ABC television Close-up! documentary series, John Daly interviews Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling, pt. 1 — 5:41 video — pt. 2 5:51 video

Nabokov lispingly delivers dismissive apothegms in an effete and frivolous style inevitably reminding one of Anthony Blanche, while Trilling is earnest, grave, serious, and sometimes just a bit obsequious.

Great lines:

“I don’t want to touch hearts, and I don’t even want to affect minds very much. What I want to produce is really that little sob in the spine of the artist reader. I leave the field of ideas to Doctor Schweitzer and Doctor Zhivago.”

“It was fun to breed her in my laboratory,” says Vladimir Nabokov of Lolita.

Hat tip to Cynical-C via David Ross.

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